I almost finished shading the horns of the red monster on my sketchbook, when the sound from the TV entered my room. It was a woman’s voice.
She said, “The tension between the rivaling sects has stifled to extremes. SECT A, hurt by the merciless killing of a minor by members of SECT B, has called for a peaceful gathering in the town hall near the Kajro hills this evening. Some members of SECT B allege this meeting to be a Trojan horse– a rendezvous of the extremists who would be there to turn their nefarious intentions into actionable plans. SECT B extremists have gone to social media to threaten those who think of attending that meeting.”
She continued,”All of these began when a member of SECT A raped a girl of SECT B two months ago. The hatred among the masses has spread faster than wildfire causing people to stay indoors, preventing schools and colleges from opening. How did we reach this low as a society? We all hope that this all ends.”
By then, I was in the TV room with my father, who became slightly agitated by that statement. “It’s never going to end. Not until those SECT A goons perish.” my father shouted to the woman on the TV.
I picked the remote up from the table and changed the channel to National Geographic. A cheetah was chasing a deer. “You see there, that’s how they wanna treat us. These SECT A people think they are cheetah and we are the deer,” said my father, gulped the remaining tea from the cup in one go and continued, “But that’s not how things are. We need to show them this.”
“These are bad people–” I said.
“Bad? Don’t go so easy. Pathetic. They will rot in hell. They raped a girl, killed our brothers and now they are showing the world that they are here for peace. Fucking hypocrites,” my father interuppted.
“What are we going to do in response to their meeting?”
“Our people must have something planned. I am not that well versed but it’s going to be big. They call it ‘Mission Rose… ’ or something.”
My father notices me looking at the get-well-soon card kept in his upper pocket. He takes it out and hands it over to me. It was a generic card found in all stationary shops with a motivational quote inscribed. The only distinction it had were the four words my father wrote on it, “Proud of you brother.”
“When will uncle leave the hospital?”
“Maybe a week or so. You know how badly these bastards injured his head.”
“But anyway your uncle fought off those goons bravely.”
The cheetah on the TV had its third failed attempt in catching a prey. The narrator informed us that this particular cheetah now had to sleep unfed.
“I am leaving to visit your uncle at the hospital,” said my father.
“Take me with you.”
“Stay in. It’s unsafe for you.”
“No, you watch TV. I will be back in two hours. SECT A people will go unfed like that cheetah. ”
My father rode off in his car. I took my phone and got five of my friends on a conference call. I suggested them to roam the wilderness of the region together. All of them strictly said no. Their parents had imposed a stay-at-home-at-all costs in fear of the SECT A people.
“Grow some balls guys. I don’t fear those bastards and I will go alone,” said I, cutting the call.
I was all ready to leave the house but an unknown fear stagnated me. If I embarked on this journey alone, it could be fatal. I went back to my room and walked to and fro, contemplating on whom to call. I had one friend in my mind. But there was a problem: he didn’t belong to my sect. He didn’t belong to SECT A either. He was what we called sectless. We didn’t interact with these people a lot. But anyway I called him.
“Hello,” his voice from the other side.
“Whom do you support SECT B or A?”
“I support people’s lives.”
“What does that mean?”
“Anyway, would you mind spending some time outside with me?”
“Asking me on a date.”
“No. Aren’t you bored staying at home?”
“I roam around though less frequently for last two months.”
“I haven’t left the house for two months. Would you be my company?”
“The wilderness. The hills.”
“You afraid of SECT A. That’s why asking me, huh,”
“I am afraid of no one. Thought having a company would be good. Leave it, I will go alone.”
“Ok, ok. You aren’t afraid. I will come. When?”
My friend and I walk past our neighbourhood. The sky is grey camouflaging the color of the road and of the strong standing buildings around. We see not one soul other than us treading the road. The city dustbins are flooded with garbage such that the garbage has spread on the road. We veered off the road and disappeared among the trees leading to the hills.
“Why the hills?”
“I want to see that place of gathering,” I replied.
“Just see,” he said in a toned down voice.
“Maybe I will throw some stones at that building.”
“Wow. So that’s how you will bring that building to the ground.”
“Not funny. You don’t understand the situation.”
“I live among you all too.”
“That doesn’t matter. Your people are not being killed.”
“People from both sects are being killed. We sectless don’t indulge in these matters and so remain peacefully.”
“No, you don’t get killed cause you don’t hold any values sacred. That’s why you are called sectless.”
He rolls his eyes at me. Shakes his head and said, “Human lives are important. No matter what sect they belong to. That’s where you stand.”
As we leave the dense vegetation behind, ahead us lie an empty field to cross. Across that field, stands the Kajro hills. It stands not more than 200 meters– not a difficult climb. My father said to me that way before, way before our great great grandfather’s time, these hills were so tall that climbing them would take more than a days’ time. But slowly and steadily, these hills bowed to the forces of nature.
After having an easy climb, my friend went off track and stopped near a tree which was easily six times taller as I was. I ran toward him.The bark of the tree had thick black lines running top to down, giving it a creepy look. I looked up to find my friend was plucking berries and the leaves. I shouted at him and threw my arms wide open inquisitively.
“I came here for them.”
“I will sell these.”
After being satisfied with the amount of collection, he zipped his backpack and climbed down. He unzipped the back compartment of his bag and brandished to me whitish-yellow berries lying on a bed of leaves.
He looked at me, spreading his smile and said, “These unripe berries and leaves give you strong hallucination.”
“What are they called?”
“Mulberries. But we call it the magic berry.”
“Are people buying these in such a hostile situation.”
“You’ve got quite a lot to learn, man. These sell faster than groceries do. See people in such adverse situations remain stressed and then these hallucinogenic stuff becomes as important as air to them. ”
“So you are profiting off this war between us.”
His smile disappeared. He scratched his head with his index finger.
“What was all that no one should fight? I stand for humanity bullshit.”
“See, in a way, I’m helping people by turning their attention away from the horrific incidents. Letting them enjoy life.”
He grasped my hand and put five berries in my hand. Try them.
“Any side effects?”
“You may have to use your toilet quite often. And some people report vomiting. Nothing more.”
I placed them inside my pocket.
We walked west now. And below us was the town hall. A building large enough to accommodate a thousand plus people. It lies in the region we people have occupied and so conducting a meeting here was a bold move by the SECT A leaders. The roof of the building was triangular shaped and was covered with glasses.
I picked up a stone lying near me and threw it toward the building. It missed the building by a slight margin. My friend laughed out loud. I sneered at him. Adamant to break one of the glasses, I looked for a larger stone. While searching, I caught sight of a tree. I couldn’t identify it but it had a strong trunk– so fat that it would require six people to completely hug it. From the trunk emerged four branches,each one taking a respective direction. At the intersection, was a human made platform and it had a camera placed on it.
When the tree was a foot away from me, I noticed a few portions of the trunk were chopped off to allow one to easily climb it. I reached the platform and took the camera in my hand. If I was right, people called it the camcorder. They had been extinct from this market so finding this black camcorder on this hill was weird. Someone had manipulated it– it was heavily taped with a red tape.
I felt a gush of happiness oozing through my body upon holding such a vintage camera. I was about to flip open its screen but was interrupted by my friend.
“It is about to rain. Let’s go,” he said, pointing to the dark sky.
I waved the camcorder in the air.
“What’s this? A camera?”
I nodded and flipped open the screen. It was a 3 inches screen. I wanted to shoot with it. But before that I had to figure out what I should shoot. I pointed the camcorder toward the Town hall. Yes, it was perfect. I clicked the on/off switch. On the screen, this image of the Town Hall flashed for half a second. After that, the whole screen showed a ball of fire and we heard a loud maddening bang! BOOM! Large pieces of the building came flying toward us. None of them were able to harm us as they couldn’t surpass the periphery of the hill. The atmosphere turned dusty; the Town Hall reduced to rubble as if it were a sand castle and some annoyed kid kicked it.
The camcorder recorded everything.
My ears lost their ability to hear, every sound subdued. I felt a shock in the body and tripped down the platform. My feet bashed on the ground and the camcorder released itself from my clutch and fell sideways. I looked at my friend. He was down on the ground– sleeping on his belly– with his hands crushing his ears.
I caught the camcorder. The screen had gone black. My sight fell on the underside of the camcorder. Two words were marked on it: “Mission Rosewood.”
I saw my dad’s car parked. The door of my house was wide open. I walked in– without ringing the doorbell. As I approached, the sound of TV intensified. My father sat in front of the TV on the couch, with his hands on his face, sobbing furiously. The lady on the TV broadcasted the pictures of remains of the Town Hall. Health workers pulled out corpses strangled among large cemented chunks. A girl, barely the age of 10, was being carried away on a stretcher. Her breath was no more, her face inscrutable. I gazed at the TV unflinchingly.
“It is reported that 36 SECT A people were in the building including 6 children. These were there for the preparation of the upcoming gathering. Our sources say that SECT B planned this attack but they weren’t the ones to execute it,” the woman spoke, “we also have gathered the information that a SECT B extremist’s body is also found among the dead, raising the suspicion that he was the person intended to deploy the attack.”
A tight slap to my face woke me up from the dream-like state I was in. Another blow to the face! Third blow, but this time I blocked it with my arms. My father took my body in his hands and shook me like I was a bag of grains.
“Where were you?” he cried out, spit from his mouth fell upon my face.
I stood there lifeless.
He shook me again. This time one of the berries from my pocket trickled down. My dad picked it up from the floor and punctured it in his finger. He shoved his hands into my pocket and took out the remaining four.
“This, this is what you are addicted to?”
He smacked me on my back with his fists. “Your uncle died this morning in front of my eyes. And you risk your life out for these berries.”
He slapped me once again, turning me half-deaf.
“Who gave you this? Those SECTLESS people. They are the real victors here. We fight. They thrive,” he barked, slamming his palm at my back, he added, “And you go out! Risk your life. Those SECTLESS people, they will take care of you, huh.”
He dragged me to my room and pushed me in. Locked the door from outside and commanded, “You’re grounded.”
I saw through my room’s window: He threw himself back on the couch, increased the volume of the TV which now said, “SECT B disregards the extremist whose body was found at the Town Hall disaster site as the person assigned the responsibility to do the act. The leader mentioned that they planned the act in this way and that this was a mere trailer. While the leader of SECT A has declared a civil war against SECT B. The country is in turmoil.”
My father ate all the four berries by the time the lady finished speaking. He switched off the TV. He closed his eyes and rested his neck onto the cushion, head facing the ceiling. I turned around to see my sketch which I drew today morning. I clung the paper on both hands and observed that the red monster had vanished. Not a single trace of him was left. His place was taken by a far more dangerous, murderous monster than him– me.
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